Bulgaria Becomes the Latest Ally to Get the Obama Treatment

Views on BG | August 5, 2011, Friday // 15:08|  views

US Ambassador James Warlick is pictured here with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

By Omri Ceren


In what's becoming something of a pattern for the Obama administration, the way we're conducting relations with Bulgaria is increasingly indefensible. Sofia is a NATO ally, an EU member state and has contributed troops to our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But–like so many other allies who made a point of supporting us in the early years of the Global War on Terror–treatment at the hands of U.S. Ambassador James Warlick has fallen somewhere between condescending neglect and active alienation.

Frustration with Warlick spans the the political spectrum. Things got so bad a few months ago that someone started a new media initiative calling for "A Day Without Warlick." When asked about the campaign, the ambassador "laughed and pointed out it was part of democracy, which is a marvelous thing." The dripping paternalism was about as well-received as you'd expect.

Last April, Warlick blasted the independent Bulgarian judiciary for dishonesty and corruption, adding in the process that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's center-right coalition needed to "pay special attention" to their own laws. When asked to walk back his attack, Warlick very pointedly declined, insisting he had just been trying to "provoke a discussion."

Sometimes there's a purpose behind the Obama administration's diplomatic offensives against democratically-elected allied governments. There are times when the White House prefers dealing with a country's opposition and tries to unseat ruling coalitions. But Warlick has not limited himself to attacking the sitting GERB party. He's also engaged in extended feuds with Bulgaria's powerful center-left Socialist opposition — the Socialist former Interior Minister recently lashed out at him as "trash" and demanded his recall with the leader of the hard-right Ataka party. He recently took a meeting with breakaway opposition MPs from across the political spectrum and was reported to have "expressed his admiration of the independent MPs for the bravery to part ways" with their parties.

That accounts for Bulgaria's right, center and left — an alienation hat trick that would be difficult to pull off even if you were trying — plus the top figures of the Bulgarian Supreme Court and Parliament.

That's a problem. If regional dynamics continue unfolding the way they're going to continue unfolding, Bulgaria is set to become a literal front line in a realigned geopolitical order. Sofia's support for the West has already made it a target for jihadist incitement, with IslamOnline accusing Bulgarians of assisting in "many episodes of ethnic cleansing by the crusaders." A Wikileaks cable concluded that "Bulgaria's participation in U.S.-led action in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased its profile as a potential target for Islamic terrorist groups" and that "Islamic extremism in Bulgaria is a very real concern." Last year, national security forces raided and broke up extremist groups involved in the financing of more than 150 mosques. And so on.

The more pressing geopolitical issue is how the region will respond to the increasingly open neo-Ottoman ambitions of AKP-dominated Turkey. Ankara has indicated it considers the presence of Bulgarian-Turkish Muslims on Bulgarian soil to be a justification for interfering in Bulgaria's internal affairs. That population is a leftover from the blood-soaked Ottoman occupation that included some of the 19th century's worst atrocities, from the the Batak massacre of 5,000 civilians to a broader campaign of mass slaughter the New York Times identified as the horror of the century. Instead of showing circumspection about the near-genocidal colonization of parts of Bulgaria, earlier this year, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister committed Ankara to supporting Bulgarian Turks in "preserving [their] ethnic roots."

Turkey's regional ambitions are unlikely to erupt into armed hostility even in the medium term – although the Cyprus situation counsels caution – but it's easy to imagine a scenario where Ankara triggers a diplomatic crisis by backing border villages that suddenly announce strong inclinations toward "self-determination."

Even if a flashpoint never emerges between Bulgaria and Turkey, the tide of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in Turkey will force us to look to Bulgaria as a key regional ally. Sofia is already offering to host NATO missile defense assets that Turkey seems set to reject, something we suddenly need as we try to build a missile defense architecture in Eastern Europe. As our alliances in the Middle East crumble, Bulgaria might be as close to that critical part of the world as we can get our bases and some of our assets.

That's exactly why the Wikileaks cables emphasized the need to solidify the country as a geostrategic asset and to integrate its armed forces more fully into NATO's force structure. Instead, the current U.S. ambassador is acting as if his role is that of a diplomatic social worker, and in the process he's weakening our relationship with the current government and all of the potential governments that might replace it. How many more times are we going to repeat this game before the administration pivots from losing allies to something different?

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Tags: NATO, EU, sofia, Turks, turkey, Warlick, James, Obama, United States, Bulgaria, ambassador


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